First, why and how to teach kids empathy
Previously, it was believed that empathy was an inherent trait because some children exhibit these behaviors while others do not. However, when discussing the act of being empathetic, it is a matter of nurture, not nature, that makes the difference.
While it is inherent for some children to be more or less sensitive, the practice of empathy is a behavior that children will typically pick up from observing the adults around them. As such, children who have not had the opportunities to observe these behaviors in others, or those who have been traumatized in such a way to cause them to intentionally work against feeling the distress of others, can be left behind, without direction in their empathetic journey.
This article will discuss ways to teach empathy to children whom empathy does not come naturally, for any reason. Let’s begin by discussing empathy. Empathy is a catch-all term for three very different processes.
These processes are:
- Empathetic Concern: a motivation to care for others who appear in distress or vulnerable.
- Perspective-taking: the ability, and practice, of intentionally placing oneself in the mindset of another to interpret how they must feel or think.
- Emotional Contagion: occurs when one experiences feelings of distress from another as a result of observing another individual.
As we continue to discuss ten tips to teaching empathy, we will explore some simplified tips that will give you an idea of the basics, from which you will build a practice suitable for you and your child. All tips will endeavor to build empathy as outlined in these three processes.
1. Support children in self-regulation
Feeling the distress of others in uncomfortable. Even more so for a child that does not know how to express, seek help with, or regulate their own emotional pain. For children who cannot self-regulate, feeling others’ distress can be risky, as they may become upset with no outlet or resources for relief.
Self-regulation is a life-long endeavor for all individuals. Children especially need support as they learn their personal boundaries. We can provide support by acknowledging their negative feelings with phrases such as You seem sad, or Wow! That made you so mad! Then, a supporter should follow up with a constructive way to handle said emotion. For example, Let’s shake out the anger so we feel better. Or, sharing sad feelings with someone can help them go away. By giving the child a place to turn, they will feel strong enough to take the risk of feeling another’s pain.
2. Model sympathetic opportunities
Children learn most naturally by mimicking others. A young child may not understand the nuance of empathy as you’ve come to show it as an adult, so intentionally offering opportunities for your child to see empathy in terms they can understand is important. For example, “Natalie is out of class this evening, so we’ll save her some of our art supplies, so she doesn’t feel disappointed when she returns.”
3. Build perspective-taking skills through literature
By guiding children through the emotional journey of a character in a story, we can help them practice not only taking on their perspectives, but also imagining potential solutions. Using puppets, stuffed animals, or even role-playing can help solidify these otherwise nebulous lessons.
4. Teach mindfulness
Mindfulness – in this context – refers to the ability to calm and center oneself as a means of separating another’s psychic pain from our own. For example, after reading a story about a character who has undergone some particularly painful growth, a child could then take the time to practice guided meditation.
An adult should guide the child to help them identify how it has made them feel, counteract those feelings with positive or comforting images or sounds, then release the negative feelings by remembering that the story, and feelings, belong to another. Practicing mindfulness in this way will benefit a child for the rest of their lives as they navigate emotional pain and pleasure.
5. Develop a sense of morality
In order to develop a lasting sense of motivation for empathy, a child must develop a sense of morality to drive their endeavors, as opposed to a reward/punishment system. In order to do this, children need to understand how their actions impact others, and they must be free to feel the natural repercussions of their actions.
For example, if their behavior causes them to lose a friendship, help guide them in processing, so they understand what they have done, and why things have changed. Then, allow them to feel the guilt, shame, or loneliness that occurs naturally after their mistake, so they can learn to self-moderate their behavior without the involvement of others.
Developing these processes take time, but with the right guidance any child can learn to be empathetic to their peers. Their empathy will aide them for the rest of their lives as they develop kind relationships with friends, family, partners, and eventually themselves.
Second, why and how to teach kids brilliance
Children who grow up gifted are often taught the value of brilliance in whatever field they are striving to be good at and it is often down to the parents on how this is taught. Without putting too much pressure on children, just how can a parent encourage brilliance in their children in the right balance?
Here are some of our top tips for helping to navigate through this fine balancing act just right.
Nuturing the Six C’s
According to science there are six C’s that when taught to kids helps nurture brilliance.
- Collaborating: this means getting along with peers as well as controlling emotions and impulses. It the fundamental step in fostering community and learning how to experience different people and cultures.
- Communicating: speaking, reading, listening and writing should be encouraged
- Content: this is the understanding of what has been communicated. Make sure to question your child and let them start to think critically and problem solve
- Critical thinking: allowing children to solve problems without help allows them to better cope with change and future issues
- Creative innovation: creation is only achieved when a person has adequate knowledge of the topic. For instance, learning the guitar does not mean you can instantly write songs, this can only come after a lot of study.
- Confidence: once they have confidence, a child will allow themselves to take risks and grow.
Encourage a child’s interests not your own
When nurturing the six C’s, it is also vitally important not to push your agenda on a child. If they show no enthusiasm for math or science, do not force them to like it. Equally, if they prefer to sing and dance than play sport, find opportunities for a child to pursue this.
Remember to encourage the work aspect
Kids don’t usually like putting in the hard work it takes to be brilliant at something, but if you encourage them without pressuring them they will find a way to excel.
Third, why and how to teach kids devotion
Until they reach adulthood, children have a lot of early lessons they have to learn. One of the most important things that you can teach a child is to be devoted to themselves. Self-devotion is key to achieving things like discipline, healthy self-esteem, positive self-image, safety, and good mental health.
Why children need devotion to themselves
There are a lot of mixed messages that children receive in the world. There are many people trying to convince others of all kinds of things and some of them try to make children go against themselves. Media advertising tobacco, alcohol, and all the sexual content on television and elsewhere can to turn people in certain directions they could avoid.
These messages could also be as innocent as a television show where one of the characters made a bad decision, but they were seen as cool by other children. Children will watch these images and want to emulate those that they admire. This is natural and everybody goes through this kind of stage.
With the countless images and messages that children are constantly bombarded with, we need to teach them to see be devoted to themselves in the face of all kinds of pressures. Pressures at school, from friends, and from society will confront them and sometimes force them to make choices.
The fact of the matter is that without self-devotion its hard to stand up for oneself and make choices in our best interests. Children will not have the defense they need to protect themselves and take care of themselves in the many situations that come their way in life.
Self-devotion has many practical benefits on a day-to-day basis as well. Well-balanced children who are devoted to their activities, homework, family life, and social life lead happier, more productive lives. There are many factors at work in a young child’s life that influence how they live later on. If we teach our children how to be devoted to themselves, they will greatly benefit in the short-term and long-term.
How to teach devotion to our children
First, we have to teach children they are important and that they matter. We have to teach them that they should let nobody lead them in any choice that will go against themselves. We can teach a child values and self-respect. Devotion to oneself and the desire to succeed in life are important because without them there is little reason to strive for the things we need to do to survive and thrive.
Teaching a child right from wrong is where it all really begins. If we teach them the value of honesty and trustworthiness and help build their character, every step of the way we will see that the child will value themselves. When you get to a point where we see the child values themselves, spending the time to reinforce their positive self-image is a good next step.
Without alarming the child, sit down and have a talk with them about the dangers in life that they must look out for. We have to explain that there are some individuals who will try to make them do things that go against their values. Tell them there are also temptations in life that also go against their values.
You can simply explain to the child that the easiest way to avoid temptation when they find themselves with others who would lead them astray is to be devoted to themselves and live up to their values. Explain what happens to people who don’t live up to their values or who are not devoted to themselves. You should tell them these things at an appropriate age when they can understand without being afraid or apprehensive.
The benefits of devotion
If we take the time to explain to a child that they should be devoted to themselves, most likely that they will carry this lesson with them throughout their lifetime. Those people who are devoted to themselves can become devoted to others such as a spouse or children down the road, and self-love is often a result as well.
These people also make good employees and decent members of society as well. Self-devotion is the foundation, and the benefits stretch out to every area of a child’s life in their future.